2019 has been rather a weak year for Malayalam cinema. We had some terrible films come out this year, some of which were discussed and bludgeoned to death on Reddit. But there is no denying that we also had some fabulous poster designs that promoted these very films – both good and bad – through their various, often unnecessary, stages of publicity.
From two first-look posters to a trailer release countdown poster to character posters to a final official poster featuring the cast as a crowd, we had everything this year. And here I am picking the best of the lot, out of all the publicity designs (including every single version) made for over 150 films that released between January and December 2019. Fan-made posters were not considered but I should admit some of them were really good.
The advent of computerised designing tools and filmmakers’ willingness to question the status quo have given rise to these charming designs. And it is important to give credit where it’s due. A film poster is a work of both the designers and the film’s crew, but here I am going to focus only on the art. The art of promoting a film through an image.
Best Malayalam Movie Posters of 2019
Here are ten of the best Malayalam film posters that adorned social media posts and flex billboards in and around Kerala in 2019. In random order; poster files sourced from official channels with proper credits given wherever needed.
Dirt is the main character in this earthy poster design for Lijo Jose Pellissery’s loud survival crime drama Jallikkattu (that quickly became a sleeper hit post its October release) that has traces of the colour of blood to describe the Tamil-origin spectacle as well as the deadly mess that it leaves behind. Hand-illustrated (using clay) by Oldmonks, one of the most prolific and skilled design agencies currently working in Malayalam cinema, this first-look poster released back in 2018 earned the Malayalam indie a lot of attention even before it circuited across festivals around the world and grabbed awards. So much that I would like to note it as one of the chief examples of how a poster can ignite interest for a film even when the viewers have no clue about the cast or the plot. Film Companion ended up featuring it in its 2018 list of the best Indian film posters.
PS – Sadly, the designer who worked on the Jallikkattu poster, R Mahesh, passed away in September 2019.
Another fine example of a publicity design actually having an impact on its target audience and piquing their interest is this first-look poster design by Thought Station. For a person who is not familiar with Malayalam cinema it is difficult to point out who the star is in this image. They might even say there’s no star in the picture. Unda by Khalid Rahman gave us a Mammootty that was different from his usual mass style (posters of such films often focus only on him and a few gundas flying in the background) and we embraced it.
It gives us a good hint about what to expect from the film. A police caper that seems funny but also seems serious (where is this group heading?). This is how first-look posters should be. And Thought Station nailed it. Don’t miss the bullet trails in the title typeface.
Pranaya Meenukalude Kadal
How do you describe a love story set on a shore and be obvious about it? You take a picture of the lead cast submerged in the water with fish around them and let the shades of blue do its job. That’s what Oldmonks did for Kamal’s Pranaya Meenukalude Kadal, a romantic drama. The shades work too well both against the darker background of the photo as well as an indication of what’s in store for us when the film hits the marquee.
Although, I will admit I haven’t yet figured out the inclusion of the shark beside the title, seen in most of the film’s posters.
When Helen‘s trailer was released, potential viewers got anxious as they complained that the story was entirely out there in under those two minutes. What would debutante director Mathukutty Xavier do to keep the audience hooked when they already know what’s going to happen to the protagonist in his survival thriller starring one of Malayalam cinema’s breakout actors of 2019, Anna Ben? I think Xavier must have wanted it that way, teasing his audience with just enough (or more) information and then pulling a fast one on them by supplying drama that is masterfully ambient, emotionally tugging, and superbly enacted. That sort of anticlimactic treatment is also seen in this para-minimalistic poster by one-man show Prathool NT that’s as captivating as the survivalism explored in the film.
Last year, I had given an extra nod to the poster of Rohith V S’s Iblis (2018) for featuring the names of the primary cast in it. In 2019, Helen and a couple others did it, which is a very welcome trend in Mollywood.
If we ignore the 50-year-anniversary stamp of the well-known soap brand and the dull font, we see delicate, wiry stems of water lily with bulb shoots and sprawling leaves embossed, engulfing the lead actors, Esther Anil and Shane Nigam, in their colourful attire, as they seem divided in their stance on a common topic yet unknown to the beholder. It’s enough to fire an interest in Shaji N Karun’s magical realism drama Olu where a young girl is trapped underwater and can communicate only sparingly. This Oldmonks poster gave vigour to the film’s campaign after its first look got dissolved in the cesspool of low quality content that is the internet.
The hue of electric green, cyan, and roguish pink in this poster featuring the ensemble cast is enough to terrorise you and also give you a very good idea as to what to expect in Aashiq Abu’s cloak-work fiction tale of the Nipah virus outbreak that spread in some parts of Kerala in 2018. This use of shades plus the dramatic faces (and portraits) of the cast helped Virus gain extra momentum in its publicity which it did not need at all.
For an outsider, this imagery is striking. Designed by Popkon.
I don’t think any other poster on this curated list comes close to how Thottappan‘s boldly signifies a relationship between the two main characters of the film. Of course, that one for Pranaya Meenukalude Kadal is based on a similar trope, but everything comes together here: the brown shade, the title with a suffix that is the Malayalam word for ‘father’, and that pose where the kid’s foot is on the man’s chin. Does this count as spoilers?
Designed by Oldmonks, this first-look poster for Shanavas K Bavakutty’s crime drama got much love when it premiered back in 2018. My only pet peeve here, though, is the lack of space between the periods used inside the director’s name.
Android Kunjappan Version 5.25
There’s more than three elements that make this poster for Ratheesh B Poduval’s technology-is-evil reminder Android Kunjappan Version 5.25 stand apart from the usual trope that involves a gang posing for a photograph. How is a robot a part of this family? How are these people related, especially the people who are not under the robot’s vision and care? What’s the foreign connection? And what the hell is a cow doing in this picture? It makes you think, with Oldmonks giving one of their best work of 2019 and the crew giving us one of the best Malayalam films of the year. Go ahead, scan that QR code!
If Oldmonks used blue to signify an ocean in Pranaya Meenukalude Kadal, they used the shades of the colour of blood to show what Geethu Mohandas had built using her story about an unscrupulous, small-time yet bumptious goon from Mumbai. Almost all the posters, that involve Nivin Pauly in his bhai look, are smeared with the colour red, and that is enough to ignite an interest in people who otherwise don’t feel their throat go dry at the mention of Kamathipura.
The man at the centre also signifies another element that comes full circle when you complete watching Moothon, one of the best movies I watched at MAMI MFF 2019. Such little bits are also what makes a poster more delightful when you look back.
What more do you need to symbolise desperation for union garnished with lechery? Than Vinay Forrt in character with a peculiar form of pattern baldness staring at the camera looking like he will approach you right this moment and profess his love. This is another example of bull’s eye marketing and caching in on star power (Forrt’s similar character in the 2015 hit romantic comedy Premam had won hearts). Extra marks for those words in Malayalam script in the blackboard behind him.
For the seventh time here, designed by Oldmonks.
It is always fun to go back to these posters and select the best. And unlike last year, I won’t avoid mentioning the films that had equally good designs as part of their marketing strategy but just didn’t get included in the final list. These posters should also get some love when we look back. In no order, those are Ishq (Oldmonks), Allu Ramendran (Thought Station), Kumbalangi Nights (Oldmonks), Under World (Oldmonks), and Praana (Vinci Raj).
What do you think about these posters? Which one is your favourite?
Check out my listicle for 2018 here. TN.